A VIEW FROM

Campaign Middle East - - AGENDA -

Farm­ers aren’t sci­en­tists.

They work long, hard hours out­side in all con­di­tions – it’s tough, man­ual labour. They don’t have white coats and lab­o­ra­tory equip­ment. So, analysing the fer­til­ity of their soil can be a slow and costly process to un­der­take. But know­ing the fer­til­ity of their fields is cru­cial. Be­cause that’s where ev­ery­thing ei­ther grows or it doesn’t. That’s what’s re­ally cre­ative about the Cana­dian Soil As­so­ci­a­tion’s ini­tia­tive.

They showed farm­ers how to test their soil for fer­til­ity, quickly and cheaply. All they need is a pair of dirty cot­ton un­der­pants. When they’ve worn them for a while, they bury them in a field and wait two months. Af­ter two months, they dig them up. If they’re full of holes and dis­in­te­grat­ing, it means the soil is healthy and or­gan­i­cally thriv­ing, great for crops.

But if they’re still in the same state they were when they buried them, it means the soil is poor qual­ity and not good for crops.

Or­gan­i­cally thriv­ing soil needs to be full of mi­crobes, bac­te­ria, fungi, pro­to­zoa, ne­ma­todes, an­thro­poids and earth­worms. Th­ese will make short work of a pair of cot­ton un­der­pants.

If the un­der­pants aren’t eaten away, it means the soil has none of this ac­tiv­ity.

There­fore, it doesn’t have suf­fi­cient nu­tri­ents for healthy plant life.

Farm­ers in Cal­i­for­nia and Canada be­gan spread­ing the word about this sim­ple test. They called it #soilmyundies. It be­came amaz­ingly pop­u­lar and it spread to the UK, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

Famers can plant dozens of pairs of un­der­pants all over their farms, in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of dif­fer­ent fields.

They need to know whether the soil is too dry, too wet, too acidic, too al­ka­line, over-worked, lack­ing nu­tri­ents or low in other or­ganic mat­ter.

Then they can work out how to treat their soil in or­der to im­prove it.

Evan Wiig, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Farm­ers’ Guild, said: “Cot­ton is an or­ganic ma­te­rial and breaks down nat­u­rally just like any­thing else you’d put on your com­post pile.

“So, if you bury cot­ton in soil teem­ing with life, all those crea­tures will be­gin to feast on it.

“If you have dead soil, if it is to­tally life­less, you should be able to pull the un­der­pants out of the ground, throw them in the wash­ing ma­chine and put them on like noth­ing hap­pened.

“But if you have healthy soil, you should have noth­ing left but an elas­tic waist­band.” Fer­tile soil isn’t just cru­cial for crop farm­ers. Cat­tle farm­ers or sheep farm­ers need lots of lush healthy grass for their graz­ing herds.

That’s why #soilmyundies caught on with farm­ers all over the world.

Hard-work­ing peo­ple who need a fast, sim­ple an­swer they can do some­thing about.

And word has spread through­out the in­ter­na­tional press as well as the farm­ing press.

The learn­ing for us is what made it catch on, how did it go viral?

The truth is, the test will work just as well with any­thing that’s 100 per cent cot­ton.

Whether it’s a T-shirt, a tea towel, a pair of socks or just any piece of cloth. It doesn’t have to be un­der­pants. But call­ing it a name like #cot­ton­soilchal­lenge just wouldn’t have caught on.

It doesn’t sound silly and naughty, it doesn’t sound fun, like #soilmyundies.

The test would work with any­thing cot­ton, but it wouldn’t get as much press. It wouldn’t make peo­ple laugh, so it wouldn’t go viral. As Walt Dis­ney said: “We have to en­ter­tain in or­der to ed­u­cate, be­cause the other way round doesn’t work.”

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